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5 Minute Mysteries Review by Dana Martilini

Mystery Competition, LLC
30275 Bainbridge Road #306
Solon, OH 44139

5 Minute Mysteries is a wonderful concept and one that could be a great deal of fun. Short mysteries are sent to your email twice weekly. The email contains part of the mystery, and you click over to the website to read the rest and solve the mystery. You receive points for correctly solving "current" mysteries. Mysteries are current until the next mystery is posted. We received mysteries each Friday and Monday. While you can't receive points for older mysteries, you can access the Mystery Archives on the website and practice to your heart's content. I highly suggest spending some time in the archives to get a feel for how the program works.

To solve a mystery, you mark sentences to show that they are a clue that either incriminates or exonerates a suspect. Ten points are awarded if you identify the guilty party, and points are awarded for each correct clue sentence identified. Points are deducted if you mark incorrect clue sentences. More difficult mysteries include bonus points if you complete them correctly; however, I have been unable to determine where the mysteries are categorized as easy or hard. Once the solutions are posted, you'll find a Post-It-type note on the right showing how many have attempted the mystery and the percentage of correct solves. It seems most mysteries average between 50% and 60% correct solves.

While it may sound confusing, the rules are spelled out very clearly. Instructions are available in several formats: website text, video tour, web tour and pdf. Screen shot examples make it easy to understand what is intended. The program itself is quite impressive.

Once you choose your clue sentences, identify the guilty party, and click "solve mystery," you will be taken to a results page that shows the solution. If this is the new mystery of the day, the page will let you know that the results will be emailed to you the following day.

The mysteries are interesting and well written. Unfortunately, I often experienced frustration when attempting to solve them. Occasionally, it was difficult to determine what was wanted. A recent mystery asked me to complete the sentence "I think that ________________ is guilty." However, the case included four people claiming to be the owners of lost money. I was supposed to determine the true owner. I wasn't sure if I was to put that the true owner was "guilty" or what. In this mystery I chose all the correct clue sentences, but I chose that the sentence "incriminated" the liar. However, in the solution, the sentences are marked green, showing that they "exonerated" (the true owner, I assume). It was confusing trying to figure out what was desired, even though I was able to solve the mystery.

The clue sentences sometimes seem to be subjective. Occasionally, you will get an obvious clue like the fact that a suspect is allergic to citrus when an orange has been stolen. But just as often, the clue isn't as obvious. For example, a correct clue sentence in one mystery was "Skylar uncomfortably noted that he was the only one not dressed in black in honor of Mr. Poe." Instead, I chose the next sentence, "He was dressed in light pullover sport shirt and khaki shorts," thinking the fact that he was dressed in light colors was more significant than the fact that he wasn't in black. My answer was wrong, and I lost points. Sadly, this type of situation arose in practically every mystery I completed.

Often, I was able to solve the mystery while not picking the correct "clue" sentences. A recent email said, "Recently, you solved Who Stole Stormon's Wallet. The solution has now been unlocked. Not only did you correctly solve the mystery, but you got 0 sentences correct, 4 incorrect and accumulated 6 points."

I think a fairly laid back student will still have a good time attempting the mysteries and checking his responses against the solutions. However, a student that finds it important to get things "right" may find the mysteries frustrating.

The website shows Sleuth Rankings and allows participants to join "leagues." The account settings allow you to set privacy options so that your last name is masked, or you can opt out of being listed in the rankings entirely. You also have the option of uploading a profile picture, if desired.

Overall, I think this is an excellent program with a lot of potential. The price of $9.95 for a year-long membership is quite low. I feel that the mysteries are too vague when it comes to determining the desired clues. Still, if you have a student that loves mysteries, my guess is that he'd get a kick out of this website.

Product review by Dana Martilini, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2009