Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Data Corruption

Encyclopedia Brown

Encyclopedia Brown is a character in a series of mini-mystery books written by Donald J. Sobol. I read most of these books in my formative years. The main character, Encyclopedia, is a young wiz kid who solves mysteries in his home town of Idaville. The stories typically have a factual inconsistency, which enables Encyclopedia to determine the identity of the villain. After hearing the facts, Encyclopedia typically asks one question, thinks for a moment, and has the answer.

In this story, I play Encyclopedia Brown, and on my cubical there is a sign which says, “Brown Detective Agency. NO case too small, 25 cents per day, plus expenses.”


Jennifer, an employee in accounting, approaches the cubical and throws a quarter into the can next to the sign. “You’re hired. Encyclopedia, we’ve got data corruption in Made2Manage. How did this happen?” she asks.

Encyclopedia adjusts his glasses, and knows that good detective work requires asking the right questions. He starts with the most obvious, “What makes you think we have data corruption?” “Well, we are missing Ship Via’s on many of our sales orders and some credit terms on our Sales Orders and Customer screens.”

“What exactly do you mean by ‘missing’?” he asks. She shows him certain sales orders in M2M where the Ship Via field has mysteriously gone blank; there is no value shown. She also shows him customers who should have terms, but terms are also blank.

“When was this first noticed?” he asks. Jennifer responds and says, “Well, a couple of days ago. I’ve just been correcting the blank sales orders myself when I come across them. However, I can’t do that for closed sales orders.”

“Please don’t change any more of them. Is anything else missing or behaving strangely?” asks Encyclopedia. “Nothing that we’ve noticed,” she says.

Encyclopedia sits back in his chair and ponders. He says that he will get back with Jennifer in a few minutes. He turns to his computer and types for 5 minutes. He has his answer!

Encyclopedia calls a meeting with the President of his company, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s manager. After everyone is seated, the President asks Encyclopedia, “What’s wrong with M2M? What caused the data corruption?”

“I have one question first. Has anyone deleted anything they were not sure of recently?” Encyclopedia asks. All three answer “No.”

Encyclopedia answers confidently, “There is no data corruption, the data is fine. One of the people in this room….”

How could Encyclopedia be so sure there was no data corruption? What happened?

Turn to Page 123 for the answer! (Well, actually I’ll post it in a couple of days).

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