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0931 Solving a Mystery

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 931 – Solving a Mystery.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 931. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Yes, it is. Go there. Download the Learning Guide right after you become a member of ESL Podcast.

This episode is a dialogue between Jane and Hercule about solving a mystery – when someone has committed a crime, perhaps even murder. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Jane: You have to watch this movie. It’s so good!

Hercule: I’m not really into mysteries.

Jane: But this is a really good whodunit.

Hercule: I prefer action movies.

Jane: Listen, the movie gives you plenty of clues, and the detective follows hunch after hunch, lead after lead, but the movie is full of red herrings. Everybody seems to have an alibi and the witnesses aren’t reliable.

Hercule: I don’t know. It seems kind of confusing to me. I don’t really want to use my brain when I’m watching a movie.

Jane: But that’s the fun part of it. The true identity of the victim is a mystery, the suspects all have skeletons in their closets, and the detective isn’t what he seems.

Hercule: Yeah, well . . .

Jane: And just when you think you’re getting to the bottom of it, the rug gets pulled out from under you. It keeps you guessing until the very end. Hey, where are you going?

Hercule: I’m going to find an action movie where all my brain has to do is handle the sensory overload!

[end of dialogue]

Jane begins our dialogue by saying to Hercule, “You have to watch this movie. It's so good!” Jane is watching a movie she really likes and wants Hercule to watch it with her. Hercule says, “I'm really not into mysteries.” When we say we're “into” something or we’re “not into” something, that means were interested in it or we’re not interested in it. Hercule says he's not interested in mysteries. A “mystery” is usually a story about some crime. Typically, someone is murdered – someone is killed. That's a mystery.

Jane says, “But this is a really good whodunit.” A “whodunit” (whodunit), one word, is a story – it could be a movie, or a television show, or a novel – about a murder that keeps people guessing. The story has a lot of different things going on, a lot of different people who could have done it – who could have committed the murder. “Whodunit,” although it's used as a single word as a noun, obviously comes from the three words “who,” “done,” and “it.” You're trying to figure out in the story who is the murderer.

Hercule says, “I prefer action movies.” Jane says, “Listen,” meaning pay attention to me, “the movie gives you plenty of clues, and the detective follows hunch after hunch, lead after lead.” A “clue” (clue) is some piece of information that gives you an idea about what happened. In this case, it gives you an idea about who the murderer is – who is the person who committed the crime. Jane says this movie “gives you plenty of clues,” meaning the movie indicates to you different pieces of information that, if you put them all together, will help you figure out who the murderer is.

Most mystery stories have someone in the story who solves the crime – that is, who figures out who committed the crime – in this case, the murder. That person is called the “detective.” The “detective” is the person – it could be a police officer or anyone – who figures out who committed the crime. The detective is usually the hero of the story. For example, Agatha Christie, one of the great mystery writers of the 20th century, had two very famous detectives about which she wrote several stories: Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple – “Miss Marple,” as she was called in the books. Interestingly enough, our dialogue is between a Jane and a Hercule, but no relation to the Agatha Christie characters.

Jane says the detective in this movie “follows hunch after lunch, lead after lead.” A “hunch” (hunch) is a guess. It's a guess about, in this case, who committed the crime. A “lead” (lead) is the same as a clue. It's information that will help you figure out who committed the murder. The detective, then, “follows hunch after hunch,” meaning the detective makes some guesses in order to try to figure out who committed the crime. Jane says the movie is “full of red herrings.” A “red herring” (herring) is a distraction, something that isn't important but that distracts you from focusing on what is important. A “red herring” is any piece of information or any event in the novel that looks important, but it turns out it really isn't important.

Jane says, “Everybody seems to have an alibi and the witnesses aren't reliable.” An “alibi” (alibi) means an excuse for where you were or an explanation for where you were during the time of the murder. If the murder took place at 10:00 a.m., and you were at the grocery store at 10:00 a.m., that's your alibi – that's the explanation of where you were when the crime took place. “Witnesses” are people who see what happens or hear what happens. In this case, in this movie, everybody has an alibi and “the witnesses aren't reliable,” meaning you can't believe what they say.

Hercule, however, still doesn't really want to watch the movie. He says, “I don’t know. It seems kind of confusing to me. I don't really want to use my brain when I'm watching a movie.” Hercule is saying he doesn't want to think when he's watching a movie. He just wants to be entertained. That's why he likes action movies – movies with lots of car chases and violence.

Jane says, “But that's the fun part of it” – that's why it's interesting to watch a mystery movie. “The true identity of the victim is a mystery.” The “victim” (victim) is the person against whom the crime was committed – in this case, the person who was perhaps murdered. The “identity” is the name of the person, who the person really is. In this story, in this movie, the true identity of the victim is also a mystery. In other words, we don't actually know the name of the person who was killed.

In addition, Jane says, “The suspects all have skeletons in their closets, and the detective isn't what he seems.” So, this is a very complicated mystery, indeed. In addition to not knowing who was actually murdered, or the name of the person who was actually murdered, these suspects all have skeletons in their closets. A “suspect” (suspect) is a person who might have committed the crime, who the detective thinks might be guilty, who might be the one who did it. Jane says, “The suspects all have skeletons in their closets.” The expression “to have skeletons (skeletons) in your closet” means to have secrets about yourself, secrets about your past that could be very embarrassing.

Skeletons in your closet are things that you don't want anyone to know about, things that you have done wrong in your past. The word “skeleton” refers to the bones in the human body. A “skeleton” is what is left after someone dies. The body eventually decomposes. It eventually is changed so that all there is left are the bones. The idea here is that if you kill someone and you hide them in your closet, someone may go into your closet and eventually discover their bones. Once again, it's just an expression used to say that you have some bad things that you have done in your past. Jane says the detective also “isn't what he seems,” meaning the detective may himself have some secrets. Hercule says, “Yeah, well . . .”

And Jane continues trying to get Hercule to watch this movie. She says, “And just when you think you're getting to the bottom of it” – just when you think you're understanding what happened – “the rug gets pulled out from under you.” The expression “the rug gets pulled out from under you” means that there is a sudden change in the story, or something happens that is completely unexpected that you didn't realize was going to happen. Jane says, “It keeps you guessing until the very end.” When we say something “keeps you guessing,” we mean you don't know. You don't know the answer. In this case, you don't know the answer until the end of the movie.

Jane then says, “Hey, where are you going?” Hercule says, “I'm going to find an action movie where all my brain has to do is handle the sensory overload.” “Sensory” (sensory) refers to your senses: what you can see, what you can hear, what you can taste, what you can smell, and what you can touch. “Overload” (overload) is when you have too much of something. So, “sensory overload” is when you have too much noise or too much sound – too much of whatever it is – that it's causing you some confusion because you just are getting too much information, if you will. That's what happens in an action movie sometimes. There's so much going on that it's sensory overload.

Hercule is saying, here, he doesn't want to think. He doesn't want his brain to have to think, as it would if he were to watch the mystery movie that Jane is watching.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Jane: You have to watch this movie. It’s so good!

Hercule: I’m not really into mysteries.

Jane: But this is a really good whodunit.

Hercule: I prefer action movies.

Jane: Listen, the movie gives you plenty of clues, and the detective follows hunch after hunch, lead after lead, but the movie is full of red herrings. Everybody seems to have an alibi and the witnesses aren’t reliable.

Hercule: I don’t know. It seems kind of confusing to me. I don’t really want to use my brain when I’m watching a movie.

Jane: But that’s the fun part of it. The true identity of the victim is a mystery, the suspects all have skeletons in their closets, and the detective isn’t what he seems.

Hercule: Yeah, well . . .

Jane: And just when you think you’re getting to the bottom of it, the rug gets pulled out from under you. It keeps you guessing until the very end. Hey, where are you going?

Hercule: I’m going to find an action movie where all my brain has to do is handle the sensory overload!

[end of dialogue]

It's no mystery who wrote this episode. It's our very own English detective, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
mystery – something that is difficult to understand or determine, especially when trying to determine who committed a crime

* Even now, 20 years after the murder, the identity of the murderer is still a mystery.

whodunit – a story or movie about a murder that keeps the readers or audience wondering who the murderer is until the very end

* This is such a great whodunit! I was so surprised to find out which character was the murderer at the end of the book.

clue – a small piece of information that can be used with other pieces of information to determine how or why something happened or who did it

* This trail of cookie crumbs is a good clue for finding out who ate all the cookies I baked!

detective – a person whose job is to investigate crimes and determine who committed them, often as part of a police force

* Detectives today use science to help them identify criminals.

hunch – a guess; a strong feeling that something is a certain way, even though one does not have evidence and does not know for sure

* I have a hunch that they’ll offer the job to you.

lead – clue; information that seems likely to help one find out what happened in a crime, especially if that information is provided by someone else

* Hundreds of people have been calling the police station to provide leads for the investigation.

red herring – distraction; something that diverts attention from what it should be focused on, especially something that causes readers or viewers to incorrectly believe that a certain person committed the crime

* The fact that Cynthia had stolen Erika’s boyfriend years ago was just a red herring, not really a motivation for murder, but the reader doesn’t realize that until the end of the film.

alibi – a person or thing that can prove that one was somewhere else, not where the crime happened, at the time that the crime happened

* Shane says he was having dinner with his aunt at the time of the murder, so he’s using her as his alibi.

witness – a person who saw a crime happen and can talk about it during the investigation and/or in a courtroom

* How many people were witnesses to the shooting?

victim – the person who is hurt or killed by an action; the person against whom a crime is performed

* Yolanda was the victim of a hit-and-run accident, but fortunately, she didn’t have any major injuries.

suspect – a person whom investigators believe may have committed a crime, but without any proof

* For now, the police are treating everyone in the building as a suspect.

to have skeletons in (one’s) closet – to have secrets about what one has done in the past, especially when those secrets are shameful, embarrassing, or bad, and one is doing everything possible to prevent other people from finding out

* People who apply to work for the FBI or the CIA have to go through an extensive interview process that tries to find out whether they have skeletons in their closet.

to get to the bottom of (something) – to fully understand something and identify the true cause or reason for it

* Nobody is sure why sales are falling, but we’re going to get to the bottom of it.

the rug gets pulled out from under (one) – for one’s support to be removed suddenly and unexpectedly so that one no longer has anything to hold onto or any idea to follow

* Paulina was a skiing champion preparing for the Winter Olympics, but the rug got pulled out from under her when she broke her ankle.

to keep (someone) guessing – to make someone feel anticipation and suspense, making them continue to wonder about something and not telling him or her the answer

* Viktor says he has an exciting announcement to make, but he won’t do it until the whole family it together, so he’s keeping us guessing.

sensory overload – the feeling of being a little bit overwhelmed and/or anxious because one is receiving too much stimulation at one time, especially a combination of loud noises, bright lights, and bright colors

* Going to an amusement park can be a lot of fun for older children, but it can cause sensory overload for very young children.

Comprehension Questions
1. Who is hurt when a crime is committed?
a) The witness.
b) The victim.
c) The suspect.

2. What does Jane mean when she says that all the suspects “have skeletons in their closets”?
a) They are all murderers.
b) They have all committed crimes.
c) They all have secrets to hide.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
lead

The word “lead,” in this podcast, means a clue, or information that seems likely to help one find out what happened in a crime, especially if that information is provided by someone else: “The police are following a lead, but they still aren’t sure who stole the money.” The “lead” is also the first, winning position in a race: “Gracie was in the lead for the first three laps, but then another runner passed her.” The phrase “to take the lead in (something)” means to be the leader or the first to do something, and making sure something gets done: “We need someone to take the lead in this project.” Finally, the phrase “to follow (someone’s) lead” means to follow someone else’s example or do what another person is doing: “The first few weeks in the job can be challenging, but just follow your co-worker’s lead.”

to keep (someone) guessing

In this podcast, the phrase “to keep (someone) guessing” means to make someone feel anticipation and suspense, making them continue to wonder about something and not telling him or her the answer: “The weather has been very unpredictable lately, always keeping us guessing about what to wear.” The phrases “guess what” and you’ll never guess what” are used when one has exciting news that will surprise another person: “Guess what! Meghan got accepted at Stanford University!” Or, “You’ll never guess what happened to me this morning.” Finally, an “educated guess” is an attempt to answer a question based on some information, while a “wild guess” is an attempt to answer a question without putting much thought or effort into it: “Please try to answer with an educated guess. Don’t just give us a wild guess without giving it any thought.”

Culture Note
Bigfoot

Some people believe in the existence of a large, “ape-like” (similar to a large primate or monkey) “creature” (living being) known as Bigfoot or “sasquatch.” The creature “is thought to” (is believed to) be “bipedal” (with two legs) and able to walk “upright” (standing vertically, not crawling on the ground), similar a human, but covered with “fur” (hair on an animal’s body) and bigger and much taller than an adult male human.

Many people have “claimed” (said that something is true) to have seen Bigfoot, especially in the “Pacific Northwest” (the northwestern part of the United States). Some people have “produced” (shown) photos and videos with “glimpses” (brief sightings) of Bigfoot, and others have produced “footprints” (the marks left in the ground after one steps on a soft surface) and “tufts of hair” (a small group of hairs that were torn from a body at the same time).

There is no scientific “proof” (evidence that something is true) for the existence of Bigfoot. Scientists have “debunked” (shown to be false) the claimed sightings. They have said that Bigfoot sightings are examples of “misidentification” (mistaking something for something else), “folklore” (stories that are passed down through generations), and “hoaxes” (attempts to trick or fool people).

“Nevertheless” (even though this is true), some people continue to believe that Bigfoot exists, and many others “hope” (wish for something to be true) that Bigfoot exists. They are “enthralled with” (fascinated by; very interested in) the mystery surrounding this forest creature, even if it is a “figment of their imagination” (something that one thinks about, but is “merely” (only) created and is not real).

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - c