10 Facts about Encyclopedia Brown

Nick Douglas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Nick Douglas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Many of you wrote last week (or the week before) and suggested Encyclopedia Brown for a Quick 10, saying that many of us probably have developed our Flossy ways thanks to the boy detective. Somehow, despite a love of trivia, those books never found their way into my hands as a kid. So, wondering what so many of you were raving about, I bought one last weekend.

Where have I been?! How much fun is Encyclopedia Brown? I can just imagine that legions of pre-teens were inspired to set up a detective agency in their parents' garage after checking out Leroy's adventures. On second thought, maybe that's why my parents never introduced the series to me"¦ at any rate, thanks for helping me solve the "What's the Big Deal About This Book?" mystery. As a reward, here are a few facts about the little boy with the big brain.

1. Encyclopedia Brown isn't based on anyone—at least, not really. "He is, perhaps, the boy I wanted to be—doing the things I wanted to read about but could not find in any book when I was ten," Sobol once said.

2. Looking at Sobol's bibliography, it's actually pretty clear that his interests are just as varied as those of the boy he writes about. He has written more than 65 books, but many of them aren't children's books or even fiction. He has written nonfiction titles that include The First Book of Stocks and Bonds and Lock, Stock and Barrel, a collection of short biographies of men in the Revolutionary War. He also wrote The Wright Brothers of Kitty Hawk, a fictional biography of Orville and Wilbur.

3. Encyclopedia Brown wasn't Sobol's first go at writing mysteries. Just prior to his success in the world of children's books, Sobol wrote "Two Minute Mystery," a syndicated column. He later created the similarly-titled Two Minute Mysteries, a series aimed at kids a bit older than the E.B. audience.

4. More than 50 million Encyclopedias have been sold, with 7.5 million currently in print.

5. Idaville, Florida, doesn't actually exist, although you can find an Idaville in Indiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. So why Idaville? Sobol has never said for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that his mother was called Ida. I think Encyclopedia Brown would agree.

6. Usually, Sobol stumps readers. But on at least one occasion, readers stumped him. In 1990, some students wrote to Sobol about a story that involving a dishonest kid sneaking a hard-boiled egg into a carton for an egg-spinning contest. But the way the story was written made it seem that inexplicably, the kid would have hidden his hard-boiled egg in the carton before it was ever purchased from the grocery store. Sobol picked up the story and reread it for the first time since it had been published 30 years prior and realized the students were right. He corrected it and newer editions make more sense.

7. Topless Robot ranked the top 10 most impossible-to-solve EB mysteries. Check them out and see if you agree. Coming in at #1? The Case of the Kidnapped Pigs from Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day.

8. E.B. made it to HBO in 1989, but sadly, he didn't last long. It was a live-action series with 30-minute episodes, but our detective couldn't solve the Case of the Low Ratings and the show was canceled after just 10 shows.

9. Did you guys know Encyclopedia Brown was found dead behind a dumpster in Idaville several years ago? He was badly beaten and nearly decapitated. Bugs Meany, of course, was suspected.

10. We might see an Encyclopedia Brown movie one of these days, but probably not while Donald Sobol is still alive. Producer Howard Deutsch bought the movie rights to the series in 1979, but Sobol contested it. It was settled out of court and apparently the results are confidential, but Sobol has said that although Deutsch still technically owns the movie rights, the rights will revert back to the author after a certain period of time. Deutsch has publicly disagreed with this statement, but maybe that's why he's trying to unload the movie now. A few years ago, Deutsch and Ridley Scott were shopping the rights and merchandising options around Hollywood. Nothing has been determined yet, but we might see Leroy in action on the big screen yet.

And a bonus: Cracked.com has a pretty funny Encyclopedia Brown flow chart to refer to in case you're ever stumped on a mystery of your own.

q10

House Boasting a ‘Harry Potter Room’ Under the Stairs Hits the Market in San Diego

Cupboard under the stairs featured on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in London.
Cupboard under the stairs featured on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in London.
Matt Robinson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Harry Potter fans dream of living like the boy wizard, they may picture Harry's cozy quarters in the Gryffindor dormitory at Hogwarts. One home owner in San Diego, California is trying to spin one of Harry's much less idyllic living situations as a magical feature. As The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, a listing of a three-bedroom house for sale in the city's Logan Heights neighborhood boasts a "Harry Potter room"—a.k.a storage room under the stairs.

In the Harry Potter books, the cupboard under the stairs of the Dursley residence served as Harry's bedroom before he enrolled in Hogwarts. Harry was eager to escape the cramped, dusty space, but thanks to the series' massive success, a similar feature in a real-world home may be a selling point for Harry Potter fans.

Kristin Rye, the seller of the San Diego house, told The Union-Tribune she would read Harry Potter books to her son, though she wouldn't describe herself as a super fan. As for why she characterized her closet as a “large ‘Harry Potter’ storage room underneath stairs" in her real estate listing, she said it was the most accurate description she could think of. “It’s just this closet under the stairs that goes back and is pretty much like a Harry Potter room. I don’t know how else to describe it," she told the newspaper.

Beyond the cupboard under the stairs, Rye's listing doesn't bear much resemblance to the cookie-cutter, suburban home of 4 Privet Drive. Nearly a century old, the San Diego house has the same cobwebs and a musty smells you might expect from the Hogwarts dungeons, the newspaper reports. But there are some perks, including a parking spot and backyard space for a garden or pull-up bar. The 1322-square-foot home is listed at $425,000—cheaper than the median price of $620,000 for a resale single-family home in the area.

If you want to live like a wizard, you don't necessarily need to start by moving under a staircase. In North Yorkshire, England, a cottage modeled after Hagrid's Hut is available to rent on a nightly basis.

[h/t The San Diego Union-Tribune]

10 Surprising Facts About E.B. White

Born on July 11, 1899 in Mount Vernon, New York, E.B. White wrote books, essays, and poems for both children and adults. Although you’ve probably read (and re-read) his books Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, there’s so much more to learn about White. In honor of his birthday, here are 10 things you might not know about the author of some of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

1. E.B. White went by "Andy."

Although children around the world know him as E.B. White, his friends and family called him Andy for most of his life. Born Elwyn Brooks White on July 11, 1899, he got the nickname Andy while he was a student at Cornell University. He shared a last name with Andrew Dickson White, the co-founder and first president of Cornell, and Cornell tradition dictated that all students with the last name White were given the nickname Andy. This suited Elwyn just fine; he once said, "I never liked Elwyn. My mother just hung it on me because she'd run out of names. I was her sixth child." It stuck, and he went by Andy for the rest of his life.

2. White wrote an obituary his dog for The New Yorker.

White’s love of animals is evident in his writing, and his dog Daisy was no exception. In 1932, he wrote an obituary for Daisy after a New York City cab hit her in front of a florist’s shop on University Place. Published in The New Yorker, the obituary describes Daisy’s life, from her birth to her untimely death at 3 years old: “Her life was full of incident but not of accomplishment … Once she slipped her leash and chased a horse for three blocks through heavy traffic, in the carking belief that she was an effective agent against horses … She died sniffing life, and enjoying it.”

3. White married his editor.

White began writing for The New Yorker in the mid 1920s. In 1926, he met Katharine Sergeant Angell, the magazine's fiction editor. Reminiscing about his first meeting with Katharine in the lobby of the magazine, he told The New York Times that she "had a lot of black hair and was very beautiful." Six years older than White, Katharine was a divorced mother with two kids, but the couple married in 1929 and eventually moved to a farmhouse in Maine.

"I soon realized I had made no mistake in my choice of a wife," White later said. "I was helping her pack an overnight bag one afternoon when she said, 'Put in some tooth twine.' I knew then that a girl who called dental floss tooth twine was the girl for me." Katharine continued to work remotely for The New Yorker, and the two were married until her death in 1977.

4. White's style guide for writers became a huge success.

The Elements of Style, a book that teaches people how to write effectively, clearly, and succinctly, is arguably the most famous writer’s bible in America. White’s English professor at Cornell, William Strunk Jr., originally wrote the book’s rules of grammar and composition in 1918. In 1959, White revised the book, and it has since sold millions of copies. In an interview with The Paris Review, White said: "My role in the revival of Strunk’s book was a fluke—just something I took on because I was not doing anything else at the time. It cost me a year out of my life, so little did I know about grammar."

5. White was a hypochondriac.

Throughout his life, White was a hypochondriac who worried that, for example, his sunburn was a brain tumor or an ant bite was fatal. In a piece for The New Yorker, his stepson, Roger Angell, posited that White’s anxieties were due to his childhood. White was the youngest of six kids (his parents were in their 40s when he was born), so minor ailments—such as a cough or stomachache—would likely elicit more parental attention and nurturing as the cherished baby of the family.

6. White struggled with anxiety.

In addition to his hypochondria, White suffered from a general anxiety that began in childhood. He described himself as "frightened but not unhappy … I lacked for nothing except confidence." As an adult, he was anxious about subways crashing, meeting new people, and speaking in public. At restaurants, he was overly cautious about accidentally eating clams (he claimed one had poisoned him once). He skipped weddings, parties, his Presidential Medal of Freedom awards ceremony, and even his wife’s (private) burial service, describing his anxiety as a "peculiar kind of disability."

7. White was an avid sailor.

Despite his massive success as a writer, White disliked reading indoors, much preferring outdoor activities. "I am restless and would rather sail a boat than crack a book," he remarked. That is, unless that book was about one of his favorite topics: sailing. “But when I latch onto a book like They Live by the Wind, by Wendell P. Bradley, I am glued tight to the chair. It is because Bradley wrote about something that has always fascinated (and uplifted) me—sailing." White injected his love of sailing into his book Stuart Little, which contains a sailboat race, and his son Joel became a world-renowned boat designer. Once, Joel made a boat named in honor of his daughter Martha, and White carved four dolphins on each side of the bow and sailed it afterward.

8. White fought to keep Hollywood's adaptation of Charlotte's Web true to the book.

In 1973, the animation studio Hanna-Barbera released an animated musical film version of Charlotte’s Web. The studio wanted to change the book’s ending by not having Charlotte die, but White pushed back against a happier ending. Although the studio obliged, White and his wife reportedly hated the animated Charlotte’s Web, regretting that it was made and calling it a travesty.

9. White was a major procrastinator.

White was open about his struggles with writing and procrastination. In an interview, he revealed that he would walk around his house, straightening picture frames and rugs, before sitting down to write. "Delay is natural to a writer," White admitted. But he cautioned that writers have to somehow conquer procrastination: "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper."

10. White fought Alzheimer's disease with grace and humor.

Before White died in October 1985, he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. His son read his father’s books and essays aloud, and White usually enjoyed hearing his writing. Because he didn’t remember that he was the author of the words, he would pooh-pooh some passages, saying that the writing wasn’t good enough. But when he liked other passages, he would ask his son, Joel, who wrote the words. "You did, Dad," Joel said. White replied, "Well, not bad."

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