Case #9: The Case of the Purloined Birthday Present

It was just an ordinary Thursday. (It also happened to be Brian’s birthday, which, if you know him, means it was–quite literally–just an ordinary Thursday.) We were planning on celebrating Selah’s birthday that evening with a friend when–*gasp*shudder*scream*–the birthday present we had gotten for her was GONE!!! In its place was a ransom note with a clue.

We immediately contacted Nancy Drew, whose novels Selah devours at alarming speeds, to ask for her help. Unfortunately, she was detained in Europe and could not come to our aid. She felt terrible, but after hearing that Selah had read almost all of her books, she was certain Selah could solve the mystery with the help of her two fellow sleuths. Nancy studied the ransom note, which we had faxed over to her, and mailed a letter to Selah (it arrived that same day, all the way from Europe, if you can believe it!!) giving her detailed instructions for how to proceed.

Elliott, Selah and Aspen piled into the car after school and I burst into uncontrollable tears, telling them what had happened. “Your present was…STOLEN!!” I blubbered. “Our house has been turned into a crime scene!!!” I handed Selah the certified, Top Secret, Confidential letter from Nancy that had just arrived because I was too upset to say any more. She opened it, and with wide eyes (and lots of giggles, I might add, though I didn’t think that was an appropriate time for laughter) read through the instructions and the attached ransom letter. Perhaps one of the most important instructions was that they were not to enter a room unless the clues led them there or else bombs would detonate that would destroy crucial evidence or, worse, the purloined birthday present. (“Or worse,” Elliott added, “our house!!”) Thankfully, the thief had, indeed, left behind a number of clues and Nancy prepared to set Selah, Elliott and Aspen on several missions to track them all down.

Thankfully, Nancy also sent along some Pop Secret snacks for these hungry sleuths!

The ransom note read:

Your birthday present is gone!

What should you do?

You’ll find that I took it

And hid it from you.

It’s hard to believe

but a mystery is due.

The best way to find it

is to get all the clues!

Your first clue…

What has a face and two hands but no arms?

They solved the riddle on the drive home and once we got to the crime scene they immediately found the first envelope tucked behind the family room clock and they set off to accomplish their first mission, which was to crack the code to figure out their aliases.

Working as a team, they DID figure out the code and discovered their code names: Singing Puppy, Speedy Glowfish and Sneaky Turtle. Aspen was SHOCKED when she discovered her alias, saying over and over (and over and over), “But I HAVE a glowfish!! How did she know??!!” There was one more code tucked in the envelope and after they had solved their names, they solved the extra code which said, “Minn of the Mississippi.” Singing Puppy immediately figured out to check inside that book and found the first letter (L) with a riddle written on the back of it, which said: I never ask questions but I am always answered.

It took them a little while to figure this one out, but they finally did and found the envelope attached to our doorbell.

Once they reached the vault AND made it back up through the lasers again to the landing level, they opened up their needed supplies.

Each sleuth received a magnifying glass, glow sticks, spy glasses that let you see behind you, spy pens and a notebook. They would need each one of those things to solve the mystery. At the bottom of the vault was a bag containing the second letter (O) with a riddle on the back: Some people take me in the morning, others take me in the evening, but one thing you should know—that when I’m taken’, I don’t really go anywhere.

It did take them a little while to figure out it was a bath, but since we only have one bathtub in our home, they knew where to go immediately. And they were very careful to not open any other doors…

They opened the envelope and read the mission and as soon as they entered the bathroom, the door was shut behind them! Somehow, the light switches didn’t work (I’ll have to look into that…) and since there are no windows in their bathroom, they were forced to use their glowsticks. So this was DEFINITELY the hardest of all the missions but with a little help from yours truly (good thing Nancy and I speak the same language) the sleuths cracked the code. The clue was written with a scytale—so there was a long strip of paper with letters on it and they had to match the arrow on the piece of paper to the arrow on the paper towel roll and then wrap the paper around it to read the word. They knew the piece of paper with the letters was important but they couldn’t match it with the paper towel roll. So once we solved it together, it led them to our home library where they found the 4th mission on the side of a bookshelf. The 4th letter (S) was scattered among the items in the bathtub so they also had collected that.

The envelope was filled with small squares of paper with lots of very random things typed out on them in size 2pt font. They read through each and every one with their magnifying glasses until they could figure out which one was the clue. One of them said, “Happy Birthday to You!” by Dr. Seuss and that just happens to be one of the books on our bookshelf. Inside the book was another letter (A) with a clue written on the back: I am alive without breath and cold as death. I am never thirsty but always drinking. What am I?

They ran up to Sneaky Turtle’s room and found the 5th mission attached to his fish tank. Unfortunately, they also found something very fishy indeed… a dead fish. That terrible thief! Must have scared the fish to death! But, undeterred and undaunted, the sleuths carried on and read the mission at hand. How Nancy knew that a birthday version of Headbandz was Selah’s one request for her birthday, we’ll never know. It was a personalized birthday/detective version and, let me tell you, it was just the perfect game for Singing Puppy and her fellow sleuths. They worked together and laughed hard and the very last clue to guess was a teal balloon. There were balloons scattered all over the living room but only one teal one, which contained the next letter (M) with a clue on the back: I begin with T, I end with T, and I am mostly full of T. What am I?

Inside the bag was a bowl of cooked noodles. Once they had all reached inside they guessed, “noodles,” and Singing Puppy knew to go to our pantry and look inside the noodle bin. There, she found the next letter (H) with a clue on the back: When I was invented you could look through walls. What am I?

Speedy Glowfish immediately thought of looking out the window…

They came inside to accomplish this mission…

Working together, they got 10 shots and then Singing Puppy ran to the target, intuitively knowing to check behind it. She found the letter (E) with the clue: What has to be broken before you can use it?

Inside the mission envelope were lots and lots of oddly shaped pieces of paper with pictures and words and sentences written on them…in invisible ink. They had to use their spy pens to read them and then decide which one was the clue. One of them said, “Your favorite breakfast to eat with whipped cream and strawberries.” Singing Puppy ran to the pantry containing the waffle mix, where they found a letter (S) with the clue: “I don’t speak, can’t hear or say anything, but I will always tell the truth. What am I?” They finally figured it out…

Once they found the paper plates in the cabinet, they had to unscramble them to figure out what was for dinner. I loved the moment Singing Puppy realized the plates spelled out “Pizza.”  

The exhausted sleuths ate and were merry…and then Singing Puppy found a clue underneath her slice of pizza! (Can you see it in that lower left picture?) It was a letter (O), wrapped in aluminum foil, with this clue written on the back: “I sometimes have leaves, but I’m not a tree. I’m sometimes bedside, and sometimes coffee.”

Brian and I figured it out right away but, come to find out, none of these three children knew that a table has “leaves.” However, as Speedy Glowfish leaned back in her chair, scratching her chin to try to solve the riddle, she happened to glance down and see that the last mission had fallen to the floor from where it had previously been taped to the underside of the table. And so it was very easy for them to find it on the floor at their feet, ha!

Inside the envelope were tons of pieces of paper filled with quotes from Nancy Drew and/or other detectives in very small font, backwards. So they had to hold the papers up to the mirror to read them. Somehow, and we will never know how, the very last paper that held the clue had dropped to the floor without them noticing. (See it on the floor in the bottom left photo?) That paper read, “The last letter is found where the clothes go round.” And there, in the washing machine, was tucked the final letter (R).

Here are the letters they received. Can you solve the case??


Okay so the unscrambling of the letters was a WEEEE bit difficult for these sleuths. Thankfully, I was able to help them crack the case with a few hints (I’m guessing it’s two words…let’s think about who this day is about…) they finally got “Selah” and were left with OMORS. And finally they put it all together to get…SELAHS ROOM.

The purloined birthday present was a DESK!!!

The thief had–very conveniently, I might add–dropped the stolen loot in HER BEDROOM!! WHEW!! I breathed a sigh of relief for the first time that day.

Singing Puppy, Speedy Glowfish and Sneaky Turtle all celebrated.
They each gave Selah wonderfully-thoughtful gifts and we enjoyed some mud pied cupcakes together. (And yes, I fussed and at the very least gave Brian a candle in his since it was, indeed, HIS birthday!)
Her Aunt Angela and Uncle Tony sent her a compass and #11-20 of the Nancy Drew series. These are just some of the faces that accompanied the opening of these amazing presents. It’s like she struck gold. (Which, really, she did!)

Selah also got to celebrate her big day with Brian’s parents and some of the Mauss family. Thankfully there were no more crimes that needed to be solved during those festivities!! If only Nancy could have joined us for some mud pie…maybe next time!

Well happy birthday to our darling Singing Puppy Selah. The mission to turn 9 years old was, indeed, ACCOMPLISHED!


  1. That was so much fun! Can we all turn 9 again at your house? Nancy Drew was a big favorite growing up in our neighborhood too! Happy Birthday to Selah, that “thief” didn’t stand a chance! Love you all… A.Adele. & U.Serge xxxooo

  2. Wonderful. Don’t know where you got all that creativity, but it certainly makes memories for your children!

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