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Cracking the Case

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"The Case of the Champion Egg Spinner" has finally been cracked.

But this time, Encyclopedia Brown, the 10-year-old sleuth of the eponymous children's mystery-book series by Donald J. Sobol, didn't do it alone. The case was solved with the help of some diminutive detectives from Philadelphia.

As the book opens, all is quiet in Encyclopedia's hometown. But that changes when a young rogue named Eddie proposes an egg-spinning contest to his friends. The youngsters purchase raw eggs together at the grocery store and the spinning begins. Mysteriously, Eddie's egg always spins longest. With each triumph, he gains a prized possession from one of his unfortunate opponents.

But Encyclopedia deduces that Eddie is as slippery as a rotten egg. He is cheating by substituting a hard-boiled egg for a raw one. The law of gravity is on his side, so his egg invariably spins longer. His ruse exposed, Eddie is forced to return his ill-gotten gains. Case closed.

"Not so fast," said eight 1st and 2nd graders at the Philadelphia School. How could Eddie have switched eggs? To prevent cheating, each player had let someone else hold his egg until his turn to spin came up. Eddie couldn't have switched eggs without being caught. The solution provided at the story's conclusion did not explain how Eddie had swapped eggs. These careful readers were baffled.

With the help of their teacher, Janet Weinstein, the savvy sleuths wrote Mr. Sobol to ask him for an explanation. A few weeks later, they received a hand-written reply from the author.

In his letter, Mr. Sobol said he had meant to show that Eddie had secretly switched eggs while in the grocery store, but admitted that he had not made the swap clear. He added that he would gladly make a correction if his publisher agreed.

His reaction to the discovery of the 30-year-old error was one of delight. "I was very pleased," he said. "When you write you hope it will help kids learn to reason, to be perceptive."

The children are understandably pleased with themselves.

Elizabeth Kimball, age 6, notes their accomplishment with pride. "I mean, hardly anybody finds a mistake in a book," she opines. "This is a very rare thing to happen."

Ms. Weinstein says her charges have a new attitude. "They're more curious. They question more," she notes.--wl

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